Kyle Larson was already excited about what the weekend at Darlington Raceway would mean, and he added a moment to remember with his first career win at the track.
Larson rallied from 30th, bumping John Hunter Nemechek on the final turn as the two raced to the finish line to win the Xfinity Series race Saturday.
Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion, was named one of stock car racing’s 75 greatest drivers who were honored during a celebration at Darlington’s annual throwback weekend.
Now, he’s got a checkered flag after numerous close calls at Darlington, where he’s finished second three times and third twice in 10 career Cup races. He hadn’t finished worse than seventh in his five previous Xfinity events at Darlington.
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“Every time you get to come to Darlington, it’s special,” Larson said. But this weekend’s festivities are very different. Larson can’t wait for brunch before Sunday’s Goodyear 400, where 33 of the 75 all-time NASCAR greats will gather.
“You’ll get to see legends and Hall of Famers and everybody who’s still alive on the 75 list,” he said. “I really look forward to that. I think it’s going to be a special kind of thing and morning for me that I’ll probably never forget.”
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Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion, was making his first start of the season in the Triple A Series. It looked like his chance at a win ended when he was assessed a pit-road speeding penalty that dropped him to 30th before the final stretch.
But there was Larson alongside Nemechek at the end to pull out his 14th career Xfinity victory.
“We had a really, really good car the whole race,” Larson said. “We were kind of bouncing off each other a little bit. I’m not sure what happened into three, but it seemed like he tried to get in behind me to shove me in the corner.
“He kind of hooked me right and hit the wall,” Larson continued. “What an exciting race there.”
Larson took the lead entering turns three and four. Nemechek, who led a race-high 58 laps, attempted a final pass but got bumped by Larson and slid away to the inside wall. Nemechek finished fifth.
Nemechek was disappointed with the finish, not with how he and Larson raced at the end.
“That’s good, hard racing,” Nemechek said. “I’m smiling ear to ear internally, let’s put it, for the hard racing we had today and how him and I raced each other.”
Justin Allgaier, who won the previous two spring Xfinity races at Darlington, was second. Cole Custer was third, and points leader Austin Hill was fourth.
Larson took the opening stage and was in line to win stage two before getting caught at the end by Nemechek.
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The biggest crash came after a restart on lap 67 in turn four as Sheldon Creed’s car spun high in turn four, slid down the track and was hit by Brandon Jones’ car hard enough that Creed’s hood flopped up against the car’s windshield.
“I mean, what happened?” series points leader Austin Hill asked his team over the radio.
Along with Creed, Hill and Jones, 15 cars were involved in the dustup. Officials said it was the most in a crash in the Xfinity Series since 2019, when 15 cars were caught up at Daytona’s summer race.
Jones was in a tight spot during Creed’s slide toward the infield and had little option other than to take the hit.
“I don’t know if there was anything else I could do,” Jones said.
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The four drivers, including Jones, who went to the infield care center were examined and released. Still, the spinning, slowed cars piling up behind Creed made Darlington look more like Talladega after the big one.